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Naked Reader Book Club—This is Your Brain on Smut: How the Erotic Impulse Connects the Mind to the Genitals

Naked Reader Book Club—This is Your Brain on Smut: How the Erotic Impulse Connects the Mind to the Genitals
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It might be a graceful phrase from Anais Nin or Pat Califia, sought out or stumbled on, but as with any sexual attraction, once it chooses you, your heartbeat quickens, you’re aware of your breathing, and you become a bit stupid with horniness. That’s what reading erotica does to you—at least good erotica.

  The Sexual Synapse

When erotica gives you that tingle you have two choices: You can pull yourself away, which is like trying to get a bumper sticker off your car, or you can keep reading…then maybe touching … then maybe masturbating or having actual sex.

But just how does erotic stimulation leap from lines on the page to repose in our loins and laps?

According to Discover magazine, the temporal lobe is your head’s adult’s-only section, housing the amygdala, the hippocampus, both of which are associated with emotions and memories respectively. But sex takes up some of our more sophisticated circuitry as well, including the anterior insula (body awareness) and “brain regions that are associated with understanding the thoughts and intentions of other people also seem linked with sexual feelings” (which makes sense…at least if you’re going to be any good at it).

That’s where erotica begins to stimulate us, but what about long-term impact? Two of the three people I asked about a favorite piece of erotica cited choices from their early youth. But does thatmean we will gravitate to these passages again and again?

“Unlikely,” says Dr. Bryant Paul, Professor of Telecommunications and Affiliated Faculty with the Kinsey Institute at Indiana University. “They’re telescoping in on what they remember, with a ‘first-time’ sentimentality. Most people will remember the first thing they masturbated to, but that doesn’t mean they’ll return to it. What is attractive to an individual is malleable.” Which explains why our tastes in erotic materials evolve. “Evolution is the key here,” Dr. Paul says. “We spent millions of years as hunter-gatherers and we developed tendencies to be attracted to some things and not others. Electronic media has only been with us for maybe 100 years. There’s no way our brains have had a chance to adapt.” We certainly don’t have a media filter. “We can’t have sex with the computer screen, though that’s coming—but it’s amazing that we even identify two-dimensional computer images as sexual,” says Dr. Paul. “We’re using a Stone Age brain to process Information Age information. All the mating strategies that would have made sense in the Pleistocene age are still with us.”

Which may go a long way to explain why, even in modern times, girls tend to frustrate nice men by liking macho bastards. “Macho bastard” was a positive attribute in Flintstone times. “The macho guy could kick everybody’s ass, except there were no repercussions,” Dr. Paul says.

Still, while part of us is still operating on primal systems, part of us has also gotten sophisticated enough to appreciate the subtle beauties of sensuous literature. “The reason written erotica can be so attractive to certain people is because it allows them to bring some interpretation into it, more interpretation than the visual,” says Dr. Paul, using the Marquis de Sade as an example.

Some people see only aggression in de Sade, others immediately think of it as sexual, “but they’re all creating images of what it means. When you look at an image there’s not as much room for interpretation. Words on a page allow you to more freely create the image in your mind. You’re controlling the image more than you would when you’re looking at an actual image. “Some people don’t like reading because it is a more cognitively burdensome process.”

Pictures are certainly easier. “[Visual] sexual depictions in essence, is the fast food for the Stone Age mind, while erotica is for somebody who is a gastronome,” Dr. Paul says.

But there’s room in our Information Age minds for lots of different apps.

“Sometimes you want to be romanced and have lots of foreplay and sometimes you just want to have sex,” Dr. Paul says. “People like to go to McDonalds and some people like to go to Le Bec-Fin,” and some people like both. “Sex feels good because it’s essential to the continuation of the genotype. One thing you can say about every branch of your family tree: They got laid.”

To purchase the Naked Reader Book Club selections, visit the Naked Reader Book Club Store.

The Naked Reader Book Club Selections for May 2010
Peep Show – Erotic Tales of Voyeurs and Exhibitionists Edited by Rachel Kramer Bussel Afternoon Delight – Erotica for Couples Edited by Alison Tyler

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